Kla-how-ya: Pan Pacific Kicks Off Aboriginal Village With 12 Meter Canoe

Yesterday afternoon the Pan Pacific Hotel welcomed the Aboriginal Tourism Association of British Columbia into its hotel with a stunning cultural display. The event was open to the media and special guests (which is how I was invited).

From February 12-28, the lobby of the hotel will be transformed into an Aboriginal village called “Kla-how-ya”, a word recognized by Aboriginal Nations meaning “welcome”.

Yesterday’s event was the opening ceremony for the 16 day event held by the Pan Pacific which, in partnership with Terasen Gas, will showcase Aboriginal art, performances, and culture – free to residents and visitors during the upcoming 2010 Games.


The Ceremony

The afternoon itself was a spectacular sight. The Tsimshian Nations of Northern British Columbia began the procession by offering a 40 foot hand carved canoe (called Raven Song) as a cultural gesture of friendship and peace.

Photo: Jonathon Cruz | View full gallery

As the singing and drumming ensued (a symbolic request to come on to Squamish land), Chief Bill Williams of the Squamish Nation and the Spakwus Slolem welcomed the Tsimshian Nations in friendship and good spirit.

Then the impossible happened…

The one-tonne canoe  was raised above the heads of staff and guests through the hotel entrance and then up two flights of stairs to the main lobby. The ambitious group effort took a fair deal of strategizing to manoeuvre the entranceway and escalators but finally made its safe arrival into the hotel front lobby unharmed.


The event then continued with Aboriginal Tourism CEO Keith Henry who thanked Terasen Gas, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada and the Pan Pacific Vancouver with a ceremonious display followed by Pan Pacific Executive Chef, Daryle Nagata handing out some delicious traditional Native food to the guests which included Native bannok and smoked salmon horderves.

Watch a video clip from 24 Hours:

The Artist

As the ceremony concluded I was fortunate enough to sit down Bill Helin, the Tsimshian artist who carved the Raven Song Canoe. As we proceeded to discuss some of the events of the day, I couldn’t help but ask what inspired the creation and design of the canoe:

The canoe was designed to travel with the “Tribal Journey”, to the 1994 XV Commonwealth Games in Victoria B.C. The log itself was 540 year old cedar from the Nimpkish Valley so this was a really special work of art for me. I was not alone however in the design as I had almost 10 other artists from different backgrounds working alongside me to make this special creation which took almost 3 months to complete.


During the 16-day showcase, Kla-how-ya will feature traditional dancing, cedar bark weaving, Aboriginal fashions, birch bark chewing, moose hide tufting, jewelry making, carving, storytelling and an opportunity to explore the harvesting of wild herbs for traditional medicines.

Kla-how-ya opens to the public on February 12th.

Though vehicle access will be restricted, the Pan Pacific Hotel remains open for foot traffic and is accessible by transit, including SkyTrain, SeaBus and the Canada Line. (Tip: the hotel’s dining room and lounges provide front row viewing of the Kla-how-ya.)